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The first slam of the year comes round in the form of the Australian Open in Melbourne, Australia. Novak Djokovic hopes to become the first player to win the tournament three times in a row after success in 2011 and 2012 but has one less rival in the form of Rafael Nadal who Djokovic defeated in a five set marathon last year.
Section 1 Seeds: Novak Djokovic (SRB), Radek Stepanek (CZE), Sam Querrey (USA), Stanislas Wawrinka (SUI)
Novak Djokovic looks to have hit the jackpot with his draw, avoiding Andy Murray and consequently is projected for a semi-final instead with David Ferrer. The Serb begins with a tie against the experienced Paul-Henri Mathieu. Mathieu’s run at the French Open last year proved he can still perform on the big stage but expect nothing less than a straight forward three set victory for the World No.1. In a rematch of their London 2012 match, Ryan Harrison will be hoping for something more memorable than the smashed tennis rackets that saw him forced to issue an apology for in a straight sets defeat. Djokovic will be hoping for his fellow Serb Viktor Troicki to join him in the third round after defeating him on the last twelve occasions they have met. Expect Radek Stepanek to have something to say about that though, the Czech should be favoured to meet him there should he produce the inspired form that saw him help his country to the 2012 Davis Cup. Feliciano Lopez might be confident of getting past a qualifier in round one but the 2-8 record against Stepanek does not make for pretty reading.
Sam Querrey will fancy his chances to make the third round, with a possible route of two qualifiers if Brian Baker is unsuccessful in the opening round. Querrey is on much better form and comes off a semi-final in warm up tournament Auckland. Likewise with Stanislas Wawrinka, who also faces a qualifier and then either Tobias Kamke or Flavio Cipolla. Both players have failed to make much of an impact on the main tour and would need to rely on the Swiss No.2 throwing in a very poor performance to make it any further than the second round. Querrey and Wawrinka have played once before in a slam and it was Wawrinka who came out on top in a topsy turvy five set encounter at the US Open in 2010. Wawrinka didn’t impress in Chennai, losing early and Querrey will be confident of revenge should they meet.
Prediction – Novak Djokovic defeats Sam Querrey
Section 2 Seeds: Tomas Berdych (CZE), Juan Monaco (ARG), Fernando Verdasco (SPA), Jurgen Melzer (AUT)
On ability, this should be fairly straight forward for fifth seed Tomas Berdych, who will be looking to set up a quarter final with Djokovic where he would be hoping to avoid a tenth straight defeat to the Serbian. After exiting early in Chennai to Roberto Bautista-Agut, he has a chance for revenge on the off chance the Spaniard makes an unlikely run to the third round. Michael Russell and Guillaume Rufin should be disposed of fairly easily, even by an off form Berdych but Jurgen Melzer should be a worry in a potential third round encounter. The Austrian often plays well against big serving players and has a 2-2 record against the Czech.
Look for Kevin Anderson to be a dangerous unseeded player in the other part of the section. He begins with a nice tie against Paolo Lorenzi who rarely wins on hard courts before taking on most likely Juan Monaco. The Argentinian withdrew from the Kooyong exhibition this week and Anderson isn’t the type of player you want to play after very little match practice. The South African has had a nice start to the year, capped off with a final in Sydney. One of Fernando Verdasco’s came at the Australian Open, where he was a semi-finalist in 2009 eventually losing in an epic to Rafael Nadal. He has been struggling for consistency to begin the year, only defeating Thanasi Kokkinakis at the Hopman Cup and losing in the first round of Sydney. If he can make it past David Goffin, a second Belgian opponent looks likely with Xavier Malisse favoured to defeat a slumping Pablo Andujar.
Prediction – Tomas Berdych defeats Kevin Anderson
Section 3 Seeds: David Ferrer (SPA), Marcos Baghdatis (CYP), Mikhail Youzhny (RUS), Kei Nishikori (JAP)
With no Rafael Nadal, it is his fellow Spaniard David Ferrer who is now expected to challenge the big three and make the semi-finals. Despite a year that saw him take seven titles on the year, he was never seen as a threat to Djokovic and Federer (and the head to head shows) while Murray has generally only found it problematic on the clay in recent years. Expect him to sail through to the quarter finals with a section that contains the likes of Oliver Rochus and a declining Ivo Karlovic to begin with. While Marcos Baghdatis as always can cause trouble to the top players, it is questionable whether he could hold his level for five long sets these days. John Millman is rewarded with a wildcard for his recent form and faces Tatsuma Ito, whom he defeated in Brisbane only a week ago.
Another seed with injury worries is Kei Nishikori. The Japanese player retired in Brisbane against Andy Murray and has had to skip Kooyong, leaving his participation in the Open in doubt. If fit he would be very likely to be facing Ferrer in the fourth round with numerous challenger level players in the section including Romanians Victor Hanescu and Adrian Ungur. Mikhail Youzhny will be very disappointed if he cannot navigate this section carefully, especially if Nishikori cannot compete.
Prediction – David Ferrer defeats Mikhail Youzhny
Section 4 Seeds: Janko Tipsarevic (SRB), Nicolas Almagro (SPA), Jerzy Janowicz (POL), Julien Benneteau (FRA)
Wrapping up the final section of the top half of the draw, Janko Tipsarevic faces a tricky looking route if he wishes to try and repeat the 2012 US Open quarter final between himself and Ferrer. An inspired Lleyton Hewitt in Australia is always a tricky task, especially if the match is scheduled for the raucous night crowd – an occasion which Hewitt will thrive upon. Hewitt has a 3-1 record over Tipsarevic, although they have not played since 2009. Lukas Lacko and Gilles Muller face off to play the winner of the previous match and won’t be given much of a chance, though Muller’s tricky lefty serve can pose problems to many a player. If there is an unseeded threat here, it has to be Grigor Dimitrov. His surrender in Sydney to Fabio Fognini was covered up by the fact news of his new relationship with Maria Sharapova had been announced but Dimitrov’s focus must not be disturbed if he is to make a splash here. He was a finalist in Brisbane to start the year and a good run here would solidify the Bulgarian as more than just hype. He begins against Julien Benneteau who made the semi-finals of Sydney this week.
Nicolas Almagro will be fairly happy with his draw, starting with a qualifier than potentially an all-Spanish clash against Daniel Gimeno-Traver, although Lukasz Kubot will have something to say about that. The Pole defeated an irritated Feliciano Lopez before losing in the second round of Doha. Another Pole will be gaining all the attention though; Jerzy Janowicz is highly fancied after his run in Paris last year but the hype tempered a little bit after a disappointing loss to Brian Baker in Sydney. While Janowicz has all the talent, it would not be surprising if he exits early to a more experienced opponent – be it Simone Bolelli in round one or Bjorn Phau in round two.
Prediction – Grigor Dimitrov defeats Janko Tipsarevic
Section 5 Seeds: Juan Martin Del Potro (ARG), Marcel Granollers (SPA), Andreas Seppi (ITA), Marin Cilic (CRO)
After his performance at the back-end of last year, there are whispers that Juan Martin Del Potro is ready to challenge for a slam again with wins of Novak Djokovic at the Olympics and Roger Federer twice in Basel and the World Tour Finals. Unfortunately, a route that sees him needing to most likely beat Andy Murray, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic is less than ideal. It should be a fairly straight forward run to the quarter finals though. Del Potro begins with a qualifier and while Aljaz Bedene looks a talented up and comer, it appears far too early for him to be able to pull off a statement win in round two but he has a great chance of knocking out Benjamin Becker if he shows a repeat of his Chennai form. Ranked around the 30 range for much of last year, Jeremy Chardy has just fallen out of the seeded spots after two losses and no wins this year. A qualifier begins his Australian Open and then either Marcel Granollers or Grega Zemlja. However, after retiring in Sydney, there may be issues about the latter’s health.
Although more than capable of a shocking loss, it would still be very surprising if he doesn’t make at least the fourth round here. Australian No.1 Marinko Matosevic took a 2-0 set lead over Cilic at the US Open but it is highly likely the Croatian won’t be so complacent this time round. Guillermo Garcia-Lopez is not in the greatest of form, struggling through Sydney qualifiers against some weak players before a straight sets defeat to Radek Stepanek. Andreas Seppi should have little trouble with clay courter Horacio Zeballos and holds a 3-1 record over probably second round opponent Denis Istomin. While Seppi has been competitive overall against Cilic, the 4-5 record is a bit misleading as Cilic has won the three encounters between the two since 2011.
Prediction – Juan Martin Del Potro defeats Marin Cilic
Section 6 Seeds: Gilles Simon (FRA), Alexandr Dolgopolov (UKR), Florian Mayer (GER), Andy Murray (GBR)
While the quarter final with Juan Martin Del Potro looms large for Andy Murray, it is hard to foresee any danger for the Scot before then, even though he often makes hard work for himself early in a slam. Robin Haase is terribly out of form and is failing to make it past the first round most tournaments while Murray’s recent encounter with John Millman will ensure he is not complacent against another Aussie wildcard in John Patrick Smith, presuming he can make it past Joao Sousa. The Brisbane champ will expect to see either Florian Mayer or Sergiy Stakhovsky in round three, both of which he has perfect records against and neither possess enough weapons to be able to get much success against Murray over five sets.
Injury problems for Gael Monfils could take away from us a potential first round thriller as he is drawn against Alexandr Dolgopolov. Two unpredictable but talented players, they look the only danger to Gilles Simon meeting Murray in round four. It is hard to see the likes of Filippo Volandri, Tommy Robredo or Jesse Levine defeating Simon early. If Levine was to shock Simon, he would have to remove memories of his shocking loss against Alexandr Dolgopolov, where he led by two sets to lose in five at Flushing Meadows.
Prediction - Andy Murray defeats Alexandr Dolgopolov
Section 7 Seeds: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (FRA), Thomaz Bellucci (BRA), Tommy Haas (GER), Richard Gasquet (FRA)
On paper, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga should sail through this section and has possibly the best chance of a shock outside the top four given his past performances here including 2008 where he made the final. However, it’s not always quite as simple as that as shown by the US Open where he was defeated by Martin Klizan. The Slovakian’s later results showed that it wasn’t quite as bad as it looked at the time but it’s still the kind of match Tsonga should have been winning easy. However, even he shouldn’t have any difficulties with a section that includes three Australian wildcards as well as his fellow Frenchman Michael Llodra – whom he has a 5-0 record against. Thomaz Bellucci has undoubted talent but there will always be questions about his mentality so expect Tsonga to extend his record to 3-0 over the Brazilian.
Tommy Haas making the top twenty once more at the age of 34 is a great story but there are still questions whether he can hold up to the rigours of a five set match. At the US Open and Wimbledon he lost in lengthy five setters while he looked visibly tired as his third round French Open match against Richard Gasquet went on. It would be interesting to see how Haas would respond if both him and the Frenchman made the third round from this section. Only Jarkko Nieminen looks a threat to this with two wildcards and Alejandro Falla amongst the others in this section. Gasquet exited in the fourth round of each of the four slams last year and it looks very likely he could do the same to begin 2013.
Prediction – Jo-Wilfried Tsonga defeats Richard Gasquet
Section 8 Seeds: Roger Federer (SUI), Martin Klizan (SVK), Philipp Kohlschreiber (GER), Milos Raonic (CAN)
When the draw came out, it definitely looked like Roger Federer got the worst of it. A lot of talented and flashy players have landed in this section but in reality it is hard to see any of them pulling off a shock in a five set format. He begins with Benoit Paire, an unpredictable Frenchman capable of such brilliance as this. The results have yet to follow on a consistent basis but if his victory against Marin Cilic from a break down in the final set is anything to go by, then we could see a lot more of him this year. After Nikolay Davydenko tore apart David Ferrer in Doha, there are many who believe the Russian is back to his form of a few years ago. It would be great to see the Russian back at that level but it would be very surprising to see it a consistent basis at the age of 31. He may give Federer a match and take a set but outlasting the Swiss in five looks out of the question. After his great start to the year, Bernard Tomic has people believing he may finally live up to the hype with a Sydney final to his name as well as a win over Novak Djokovic at the Hopman Cup. The much needed extra aggression in his game looks to be benefitting him and the rewards are in the results. If there is someone who will shock Federer, I believe it will be Tomic as he has the belief and (sometimes misplaced) confidence that he could actually do it. That said, defeating Martin Klizan is not a guarantee but with fourth round points to defend he needs to go well here.
Much like his fellow big server John Isner, Milos Raonic is always seen as someone who can upset the big boys at a slam but always fails to deliver, exiting to Juan Monaco, Lleyton Hewitt and Sam Querrey at the French, Australian and Wimbledon respectively. It is difficult to see him departing against either of the Czechs – be it Jan Hajek or giant-killer Lukas Rosol but an expected third round against a solid Philipp Kohlschreiber is just the kind of match that the Canadian could well slip up in. Kohlschreiber will want to avoid tiebreaks against his first round opponent Steve Darcis though, surprisingly the Belgian has one of the best records in them during 2012.
Prediction – Roger Federer defeats Philipp Kohlschreiber